Renshaw takes it slow after finding love again
Six months after telling Queensland he needed a break from cricket, the former Test opener reveals how his father and fiance have both helped put his career back on track
On a Monday morning in early February this year, Matthew Renshaw arrived at Queensland Cricket headquarters for training, just as he'd done countless times before.
It was less than a week before the resumption of the Marsh Sheffield Shield season and Renshaw, coming off a breakout KFC BBL campaign, had been hitting the ball as well as he had in years.
From the outside, he looked poised to re-establish himself as one of the country's preeminent red-ball openers and start back on the path towards a Test comeback.
On the inside, as he went through the motions of preparing for a routine fitness test, he was nearing breaking point.
"I was just absolutely mentally nowhere," he recalls.
"I thought, I'm cooked. I need to talk to someone."
His scheduled meeting with the Queensland coaches that morning was always going to be a difficult conversation to have. On the agenda was his axing from the Bulls' Shield side, Australia's one-time Test opener squeezed out of a talented top order as the state's international stars returned to the domestic ranks.
But Renshaw's head space that morning, and the news he was about to deliver, meant the meeting held a far greater significance.
For the first time in a long time – perhaps ever – he wasn't interested in cricket.
He needed to get away.
"I walked in, they asked me how I was, and I was like, 'Not great really'," he remembers.
"I didn't really know what was going to happen. I'd seen other guys (take a break), but you don't know what other guys have gone through when they've taken breaks. That was the hard thing; you have the feeling yourself, but you're never too sure.
"I definitely think it was something I needed to do. I pretty much ruled myself out for the rest of the Shield season, which was a really tough decision. I knew I probably would have got myself back in the team if I didn't have a break, because we lost a couple of players to international duty. But at the time, I just needed some time away from cricket and to spend a bit of time with my family and friends.
"It was probably a build-up of my short first-class career. It's been so tumultuous, there's been highs and there's been lows and I think everything just built up.
"And at that point I'm not in the Shield team, which for me was the most disappointing dropping I've had in my career.
"And you go, What do I do now?"
A few weeks later, at a small cricket ground 30 minutes north of Brisbane's CBD, Renshaw stands tall with bat in hand, watching his father at the other end of the pitch.
As Ian Renshaw lobs another ball towards his son, the young batsman does what Test openers normally shouldn't do – he tries to hit it for six. For ball after ball, no matter where it lands, the left-hander plants his foot and attempts to launch every single one of them out of the park.
It's not a training drill a 24-year-old professional cricketer would normally find himself doing during a first-class season, but this hit-out is just as important – probably more so – than any he's had before.
This is about having fun. The kind of fun he had playing cricket when he was just 10 years old, when his dad – like he's doing now – would throw balls at him for hours and hours on end. The kind of fun that has gone missing from his life.
It's the first time he's touched a cricket bat in weeks, a self-imposed exile – with the full support of his coaches – that he hopes will reinvigorate him and help him rediscover his spark.
And as every one of those throwdowns sail over the boundary, the fun starts to return.
"I wanted to feel that love, where I wanted to go out and practice cricket," he says.
"I made sure I waited long enough to make sure I was really itching to get back into cricket. I didn't want to force myself to get back if it was a little bit too early.
"But (that) was the time where I knew I was ready to go."
Any thought he had of returning to the Queensland set-up for the tail-end of the season was scuppered by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced cricketers around the country into their off-season hiatus sooner than expected.
But Renshaw didn't mind. The extended break at home has given him an even better chance to focus on his life away from cricket; he's worked on his golf game, tended to his garden and – most importantly of all – proposed to his girlfriend.
And it's given him even more time to reflect on just why the tail-end of last season went south so quickly, and how he can prevent it happening again.
"I think it was just a lot of mental fatigue," he says.
"Obviously coming off the Big Bash, we'd played 14 games in six weeks and there was a lot of travel-play-travel-play. And me being me, I'm such a big thinker about my game and it puts such a big mental stress on the game that you're playing. And then that just keeps rolling through. That's where it all came from.
"There were times during the Big Bash where I was playing the game and then I was playing the game again in my head until three or four in the morning. And then you get up and go again.
"If I've learnt anything, it's being able to mentally switch off.
"And I talk about golf being one of the ways to switch off, but I probably need to find some less physical ways to mentally switch off. For me, that's spending a lot more time with my family and friends.
"(Fiancé Josie) is really great. She's my biggest supporter. As much as she doesn't know a whole lot about cricket, she's very biased towards me. Which is really nice and it can be funny at times.
"If I'm at home sitting on my phone reading (cricket) news or reading other stuff, she'll very quickly throw the phone out of my hands and make sure I'm not getting too caught up in other things."
His love of the game renewed, Renshaw is now back amongst his Queensland teammates, doing the hard yards of pre-season training, and enjoying his cricket again.
Still just 24, he's in no rush to the return to the Test side he last played for two-and-a-half years ago.
He knows he can get back there one day, but he also knows that after the season he's had, simply loving cricket again is an achievement it itself.
"I know I love the game when I'm watching other games," he says. "I've been watching England v West Indies a fair bit, even playing little backyard cricket games or little indoor cricket games.
"That for me, that's when I know I'm loving cricket. And I'm at that stage at the moment.
"Some of the great Australian cricketers only debuted when they were 30. If I have to wait another six years before I play Test cricket again, that's fine by me.
"As long as I'm working every day on becoming a better cricketer, that's the most important thing."